On June 12, 2014 three teenage boys were standing at a junction near their yeshiva in the Gush Etzion block, looking for a ride home. They were abducted by men affiliated with Hamas, and for 18 days, the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel waited for news of their sons.
They were not alone. While hundreds of soldiers combed the West Bank to find the boys, the entire Jewish world came together. There was a sense that these three boys were our boys, that their families were our family. And when their murdered bodies were found, their grief was our grief.
What was even more amazing was how these three families managed to find meaning in their loss. They sought to capture the holy energy they felt from how the entire Jewish world came together for them. They believed that the best way to honor the memory of their murdered sons was to see if that energy could be captured. And so was created Jewish Unity Day.
For the second year in a row, the Jewish community of South Palm Beach County has pulled together our community to join with communities all over the world to consecrate the sense of unity we work so hard to create to the memories of Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali. Under the leadership of Rabbi Josh Broide, the event this year drew nearly 2,000 people to embrace the idea that we can have “unity, not uniformity.”
I was blessed to be asked to share words on the theme of peace at this year’s event. Following are the words I shared with our community.
Feel the energy in this room – the energy that lives deep within us, that we share between us, that connects all together tonight to be one with each other here in our community, and that unites our people here with peoples everywhere, in lands close and distant, but that seem as near as the air we breathe.
In the midrash, we find a debate on high concerning whether the Holy One should create humanity. Love said: “Let him be created, for he will perform acts of love.” Truth said: “Let him not be created, for he is compounded of falsehood.” Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds.” Peace said, “Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.” What did the Holy One do? God took Truth and cast it to the ground. (Bereishit Rabbah 8:5)”
Centuries later, the Kotzker Rebbe asks: “What good would it do to only banish Truth, leaving Peace, which had also argued against the creation of humanity?” The answer was that in banishing Truth, Peace could be ultimately be realized.
What never ceases to amaze me is the overwhelming diversity of life. In just this small world of ours, we find a nearly unlimited explosion of life – from plants of every size, shape, color, and variety to the smallest insect to the largest of mammals.
And among us as human beings there seems an infinite number of ways in which we express ourselves, a limitless potential to create and refine new ideas, perspectives, or understandings.
The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (4:5) reminds us that when the Holy One created the world, God created swarms of fish, and ferrets, and falcons, but just one human being. This was to teach us that whoever destroys a single human life is as if he destroyed an entire world, and whoever saves a single human life it is as if she saved an entire world.
The horror of the world in which we live lies in how many worlds are destroyed in the name of some or other truth every single day. Two years ago, I was sitting at a Shabbat table of my dear friend Rabbi Nir Barkin in Modiin. His son Omri serves in an elite unit. He had just come home that afternoon for Shabbat, but was packing his bag to return to the base, so that his unit could deploy to find Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Sha-er – all of blessed memory. I remember as we sat together feeling like the glass of our Shabbat peace had been shattered. We all offered prayers for the safe return of Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad … and Omri too.
I think about how three holy worlds were destroyed. I cannot imagine the anguish of these three families to have these singular, precious, holy souls ripped so hideously from their arms and this world. I think of all they might have accomplished, all the love they would have shared, all the good they would have done, all the wisdom they would have learned, and then passed on to children and grandchildren that now will exist only in our imaginations.
We are taught that each of us is created in the image of the Holy One. We each have implanted within us a piece of the Divine that animates us, captures us, and makes us individuals – unique, and special, and different. My teacher Rabbi Lawrence Kushner taught me that the closer you get to a true paradox, the closer you get to the Holy One, for two things that are diametrically opposed can only both be true in the Oneness of God. The paradox and challenge of Jewish life is to simultaneously celebrate what makes each of us precious, unique, and holy while we also embrace a covenantal responsibility to grow to be one.
Jewish life is a mosaic – made up of millions of individual stones of many different shapes, sizes, and colors. If a mosaic has just one color stone, it expresses nothing. But when those different stones are set down by a thoughtful artist, the image they create together is divine. I thank God every day for the infinite beauty of the mosaic of life, and for the privilege of playing the smallest part in that grand design.
In a few short days on Shavuot, we will gather in our homes and our shuls and together return to Sinai. It was there at Mount Sinai that every Israelite – every single, different, precious, special, unique, and holy Israelite – came together to be one with each other. For it is only when we are one with each other that we can be truly one with the Holy One. And it is only when we are truly one with each other that real peace will descend on us, on all Israel, and all the world. Oseh Shalom Bimromav, Hu Ya’aseh Shalom, Aleinu V’Al Kol Yisrael V’Imru, Amen. May the One who makes peace in the high heavens, grant peace to us, to all Israel, and to all the world.